Single mum of seven Rachel Gibson said “it felt like winning the lotto” when she saved more than $150 on a week’s worth of groceries.

The 42-year-old stay-at-home mum thought she was “seeing things” when several packets of meat were marked down to as low as 74 cents, still days from expiry. 

The avid bargain hunter posted her “jackpot” findings on a discount shopper’s Facebook group where thousands of Australians tip each other off to the best buys across the country.

Rachel deep freezes meat to stretch out the expiry date.(Facbeook: Rachel Gibson)

Rachel joins a growing number of people struggling to make ends meet as the cost-of-living crisis worsens across the country.

From sharing discount alerts and stretching out meals to using food banks, these are just some of the ways people are cutting costs to get by.

Life hacks for grocery bill savings 

Many Australians are struggling under cost-of-living pressures.(ABC News: Cordelia Brown )

Rachel’s biggest hack is buying in bulk when things go on sale and “deep freezing” almost everything, from meat to tomato paste to make them last longer.

With five kids still living at home, she said to get by she “budgets my butt off”.

To stretch meals, she adds kidney beans, chickpeas, and lentils to “bulk up” dishes.

“Me and the kids hate all of those things but when blitzed and cooked in the slow cooker you can’t notice them.”

Rachel said shopping fortnightly instead of weekly lessened her chance of buying unnecessary items, while she also tried to maximise her value for money by purchasing bigger products which are cheaper per gram.

Rachel, who lives on the NSW Central Coast, said her recent discount haul was not common and it was all about timing.

To get the big savings, she goes shopping when products are being marked down toward the end of the day.

Footscray market is a popular choice for budget savers who want to by fruit, meat and vegetables at cheaper prices.(ABC News: Zena Chamas)

For Josephine and her family of six, travelling 20 minutes to the Footscray market in Melbourne’s west to buy meat in bulk was her top way to cut down costs.

She said it was worth the commute as she had noticed meat prices had soared in recent years.

On an average trip she would purchase about $70 worth of meat which would last her family two weeks and cost half as much as at the major supermarkets.

“We try to budget where we can … before [we’d spend on a shop] $100, but now it’s $200,” she said.

Adrian says his family has made lifestyle changes to deal with the rising cost of living.(ABC News: Natasya Salim)

Adrian Jong, who lives with his wife and young son in Adelaide, said his family was sacrificing things to make ends meet.

He said he was hopeful of government action that would keep prices down.

“Not sure how the government can help but keep the inflation rate steady,” he said.

“It will help us a lot.”

Shopping in the suburbs and avoiding hairdressers

It’s not just families feeling the pinch, others like international students are also facing pressure.

The ABC spoke to many who said their biggest cost-cutting tips were to pay using cash to avoid card surcharges, only eat out occasionally, and buy items shortly before they expire to get them on sale.

Yeganeh Soltanpour, president of The Council of International Students Australia (CISA)(Koleksi pribadi)

Searching “cheap eats” on TikTok and student forums has helped many find the best value-for-money places to eat in each state.

Yeganeh Soltanpour, president of the Council for International Students of Australia (CISA), said many students travelled to outer suburbs for their grocery shopping where it’s cheaper.

To help ease costs for other students she posts tips on social media.

“I put alerts out when things go on sale, it’s one of my favourite things to do.”

Yeganeh said she also saved money by avoiding the hairdresser.

“We [students] give each other haircuts … we are just finding ways to continue to persevere given current circumstances.”

But stigmas surrounding wealth make it hard for some to speak up, Yeganeh said.

She said many found financial struggles “really embarrassing to talk about” because of a misconception that international students come from wealthy backgrounds.

The stereotype, she said, was that to be able to afford to study in Australia paying up-front fees, international students must not be struggling with their finances.

But in reality, many families back home went to extreme lengths to pay for their children’s tuition, Yeganeh said.

“We borrow a lot to be able to afford to study in Australia. In most cases, our families are either selling something or borrowing money from banks and paying it off.”

She said it was important for students not to suffer in silence and seek help from charities or food banks if needed.

More people relying on discount grocery stores to ‘survive’ 

Megan, Jin and Josephine shopping in Footscray. (ABC News)

Megan, a university student who has just returned home to Melbourne after living in Asia for several years, said she was shocked by the food prices.

When she can, she shops at the discount store Cheaper Buy Miles in Footscray.

“We noticed prices were reduced by like 70 per cent,” she said.

Another shopper, Jin, said she went to the store when she was in the area visiting friends.

“The noodle price for a 20 or 40 pack of noodles has also gone up at supermarkets … as customers, we just wait for the specials.”

Grant Miles says people come from all over Victoria to shop at his store.(ABC News: Zena Chamas)

Cheaper Buy Miles owner Grant Miles said the cost-of-living crisis had driven more people into his store, some even travelling from country Victoria.

“We’ve had people come up to us and say I really don’t know how I would survive if your shop wasn’t here,” he said.

“We hear it every day about the increasing cost of groceries at the large supermarkets and for a number of customers it’s just growing exponentially,” Mr Miles said.

He said his company, which sells food close to and past the best before date, was focused on combating food waste, which made it different from bigger retailers.

Mary shops at a pop-up store at a library.(ABC News: Natasya Salim)

Mary Jixsy Thappalodath, a registered nurse from Adelaide, said she found cheaper produce at a pop-up store at her local library in the city’s north.

“I’ve got milk, bread, and bananas,” she said. “It’s so helpful for people.”

Mary said most of her money was going to rent so she had tried to find a cheaper place but had no luck.

“After paying for our rent and everything, there’s nothing for us, nothing.”

But she said she felt for people who were worse off than her.

“I think I’m a little bit OK at this stage, I’ve got a job and I’m happy.

“But I’m just concerned about … Australians without a home, I don’t know how they are living.”

Adelaide business owner Jogesh Bhatti says most of his income goes towards paying bills.(ABC News: Natasya Salim)

Adelaide small business owner Jogesh Bhatti is also among those finding his income isn’t going far. 

“Nowadays we are just earning money to pay for bills, pay for mortgage,” he said.

“All the grocery items, petrol prices, insurance prices, everything has just gone up.”

Jogesh said spending money to visit family in India was no longer an easy decision to make.

“You have to think about that three or four times.”

He said he was constantly looking for ways to save money and avoiding the doctor was one of them.

“If it [illness] can be sorted out or solved without going to the GP, then it’s handled like that.”

Food bank services in greater demand 

While savings hacks help stretch food, they’re often only bandaid solutions, according to support services.

Foodbank Victoria said the demand for people coming to it for food had risen from 50,000 to 65,000 in 2023.

Food Bank Victoria says almost half the people who come in to access its services have never had to ask for food relief before.(ABC News: Zena Chamas)

“We think we’re going to hit this point, again, when the serious utility bills come in like last winter, and people are choosing between heating and eating,” Foodbank Victoria’s Matt Tilley said.

He said between 30 to 40 per cent of the people who access Foodbank’s services across Victoria had never sought food relief before.

“Sometimes both adult members of the family are working and it’s still just simply not enough,” he said.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre says more people are seeking food support.(Supplied: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre)

In Melbourne’s west, the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) has also seen an increase in people using the organisation’s food bank services over the last six months.

The ASRC Foodbank supports families by providing groceries, toiletries, and some cleaning goods.

The cost of living was significantly impacting asylum seekers because “many do not have income, Medicare, work rights and no or little family support”, an ASRC spokesperson said.

“This means, people seeking asylum, are facing even more challenging times.”

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